YASC trip to Ghana, Part 2

Now on to Yamaransa, the community where we were working last week. Yamaransa is located between Accra and Cape Coast, 2 important cities and Ghana. Yamaransa lies at an important 3 way intersection: to the west is Cape Coast, to the East is Accra, and inland to the north is the major city of Kumasi in the Ashanti region.

YASC along with several other organizations have been working there since 2011. The focus has been on education, health, business, and the construction (and sustainability) of a community center. The priorities have been set by the community leaders themselves, not outsiders. The idea for us is to engage in some cultural exchange, and hopefully make the community better off and help them achieve their goals – be it education, economic development, or anything else. Because this has been an ongoing effort, we’ve been able to measure our efforts and learn from our mistakes. It was great to see some of the progress that has already been made, and I hope to see progress continue for years to come.

When we first got to the site, we were treated to a host family visit followed by a cultural fair put on by AFS Ghana – one of our ground partners. My host was a catholic priest in town. His sister was also visiting – a woman in her 20s who was finishing up high school. It was clear that it was not due to monetary constraints and not to effort. I asked her what her favorite subject was, and when she said math I said “ah ha! We need to talk about this!” because it was very difficult to find common ground otherwise. I recited the proof that there are an infinite number of primes, and she wrote down a multiplication table for modulo arithmetic. She said “I wish you could come by and teach math every day!”

At the cultural fair I saw a lot of things that were familiar. At the booth of Ghanian games, they had one that was very similar to Mancala. All the different tribes are still confusing to me – the people in Yamoransa speak Fante (and that’s in the central region), and the Ashanti to the north is it’s own region. They have their own kings (local leaders) independent of the government.

In religion, they combine western religions with traditional African beliefs. There are so many churches and Mosques all over Ghana – probably the majority of non-house buildings. In the town there are Catholics, Protestants, and even the Mormon church has a significant presence. And there is also a large Muslim population, but not too many Jews. Ghana doesn’t seem to have the religious strife that would be expected from such a combination (and that happens in other parts of the world). They have developed a mature and tolerant attitude towards the different religions and there is no evidence that any group preaches hate or distrust towards any other group.

Interestingly, I identified more with some of their traditional African traditions than their western religious ones – and in some cases seemed more familiar to me. They have very specific ceremonies for different events in life such as birth, adulthood, marriage, and death. The baby naming ceremony takes place on the eighth day after birth. The people there can have both western names, as well as 14 possible day names based on gender and weekday of birth. The ceremony involves both water and wine – and I wasn’t sure on the exact symbolism there but maybe it’s two different aspects of life.

The funerals are very interesting. If the person was old – the funeral becomes a celebration of the person’s life. The coffin could be designed to represent them (perhaps their profession) – and they make giant posters that you see all over town describing relatives who have passed on. The funeral looks more like a send off to the world to come.

Also, we were able to hear the traditional horn that is played in honor of the Ashanti kings. It looks and sounds exactly the same as the Shofar that is heard in synagogue every year in Rosh Hashana. And finally – we were treated to lots and lot of drumming. Drumming for music. Drumming for communication. Drumming for ceremonial celebrations. Like pretty much constantly the whole time.

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